So My Van Ended Up in a Ditch

I debated on whether or not to write this one because I am loathe to re-visit the scene.  But I’ve already re-visited it a thousand times in my head, so one more time is not going to hurt much.  Maybe it will be therapeutic.  I find it amusing that my last post was about a potentially dangerous situation with a dog, and this one is about an authentically dangerous car accident.  The Farris Wheel is an action movie these days.

Two days ago, we had torrential downpours.  I didn’t want to go to the grocery store that day before picking up the kids from school, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.  It was a grocery emergency.  The back seats were laying flat in the back of my Toyota Sienna swagger wagon van, so I loaded all my bags into that flat area.  No stability for them. 

Then I got into the driver’s seat and made my first mistake.  I did not buckle up.  Please, please don’t berate me, I have already berated myself enough.  Maybe I have been lulled into a false sense of security, living in a small town where there is zero traffic.  It was not even a conscious decision not to buckle up, but subconsciously I knew that I was only about to drive a couple of blocks to the school.  Everything in my town is within five minutes’ driving distance, and I was about to drive for a total of two.

The road leading up the hill to the school is a dangerous one.  I’ve even taken note of that before, on other days.  It has no shoulder whatsoever, only an abysmal ditch on either side.  I doubt it’s the kind of thing that would ever be fixed around here, but it certainly needs to be.

So I made the right turn on to the dangerous road, and as I made the turn, I heard the unfortunate sound of groceries rolling around behind me.  Milk, bread, apples, and mixed in with them all, my bag full of women’s Bible study books that I had recently purchased for my ladies at church had tipped over and spilled out.  It was a back seat disaster. 

And then it all happened so fast.  I glanced over my right shoulder to assess the grocery damage, but glancing over my right shoulder inadvertently caused my steering wheel to turn ever-so-slightly to the right, as well.  I am pretty certain I was also hitting a puddle of pooled rainwater at the same moment.  I lost control.  The van was going off the road and it was turning, turning, bumping, falling over to the right.  Not flipping over completely, but the left tires and right tires were almost vertical in the ditch when the motion stopped.

I was thrown like a rag doll.

In that moment, I heard the name of Jesus coming out of my mouth over and over.  No thought process involved, it was just coming out somehow.  I knew I was having a wreck, I knew I was terrified, and I knew God was there.  When it stopped, my head and torso were in the passenger-side floorboard (the low part of the ditch) and my feet were up in the driver’s seat.  I was upside down, literally.  I was shaking and crying and still calling on Jesus.  But I was not seriously injured. 

I righted myself and crawled up, against gravity, to the driver’s seat, where I saw a car coming down the hill in the opposite direction.  I waved for help, and a kind man pulled over and came running over and opened the van door up. 

“I’m OK,” I said, and he pulled me out. 

I waited in the car with him and his son until the police came, and my husband came.  And then we watched a wrecker perform the incredible task of towing that sucker out of the ditch.  Of course it was damaged, all along the right side of the vehicle.  The back window had gotten knocked out.  I am damaged, too…a knot on my head, nasty bruises all over the right side of my body, a traumatic memory to work through, and some embarrassment and plenty of regret.

But it could have been so much worse.  I could have been going faster.  The front widows could have shattered on me.  I could have hit my head harder.  The children could have been with me.  Another car could have been involved.  I am so grateful.  Grateful beyond words for God’s mercy.

The wreck happened because I was distracted.  We forget so easily that it only takes a split second of distraction for a wreck to happen.  I won’t go through the litany of possible distractions for drivers because we all know what they are.  And I won’t go through the sobering statistics that are out there about distracted drivers.  Believe me, they’re out there.  Just let my own story be a reminder to you, friends and loved ones, to keep your eyes on the road at all times.

And I can tell you this.  I will never neglect to wear my seatbelt again.


Dogs Unleashed

I am going to get right to the point today.  Thesis statement, right out of the box, is this: If you are a dog owner, then please, for the love of Pete, (or more appropriately, for the love of Petey, that dog from the Little Rascals), keep your animal under control.

I am a dog lover, I always had dogs growing up, but I have no patience for dogs not on leashes.  And I never believe anyone who says their dog is harmless. 

You cannot speak for a dog. Ever.

I have my own little pig-trails that I like to walk around here for exercise, but they always say you should vary your route.  So last Sunday afternoon, I explored a new route through a different neighborhood.  Quiet, country living…houses built into steep lots surrounding a slough of the lake.  The road was hilly and thick with trees, a great trek for some serious cardio. 

I was chugging down a hill at a rapid clip, approaching a low point, and no one was around.  When I say quiet, I mean, it is quiet out here.  And there at the top of the next hill, a single black dog appeared.  He was not enormous, but he was formidable.  Sturdy-looking. 

And he was eyeing me. 

His tail twitched back and forth slowly.  I had seen that dog before.  He had charged my children in our front yard while they were playing, and its owner called him off.  At that time, I spoke frankly with the owner, who now keeps the dog on a leash when they come past our house.  But this was not my neighborhood.  Not my territory.  I didn’t know that dog lived over here.  I was out of my league.

I cannot recall that many times in my life that I have felt the cold grip of fear around my heart, but I felt it then.  Defenseless, alone.  The bottom dropped out of my stomach.  Jesus, I whispered, help me.  I was praying for the owner to appear at the crest of the hill, but the owner was nowhere around.

What do you do in this situation?  Do you keep walking toward the animal, as if you’re not afraid?  You’re not supposed to show fear.  But there was no way I was going to keep heading straight up that hill.  I looked for a stick, but there was none nearby.  My mom carries a walking stick with her on walks, a stick that she dubbed a name that I cannot repeat here, but it’s pretty funny.  I was desperately wishing I had that thing with me. 

So I turned around slowly and began walking in the other direction.  And we’re walking, we’re walking, I chanted to myself.

On the pavement behind me, I heard the pounding of paws.

Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. 

Was it his paws or my heart?  I wasn’t looking back to see.  I was bracing myself for…

A wet muzzle nuzzling my right hand.  Relief flooded through me.  Thank you, Jesus.  Rover doesn’t want to kill me.  He just wants to play. 

But I did not.  I wanted to get away as quickly as possible.  Rover began to bounce playfully around me, impeding my pathway.  And then the obnoxious jumping started.  Big milkbone paws on my chest, over and over.  Down, up.  Down, up.  “No!” I said. “Down!”  Still no owner around to call the dog off. 

I kept walking, and Rover eventually contented himself to trot along beside me, until we reached his house, where his little companion dog erupted with a “Ba-ROOOOO ROO ROO ROOO!” bark, calling him home, and he thankfully left my side.

Happy ending.  But it might not have been.  I know this is the country, and it could be that the rules are different here.  Maybe they’re not. 

I’d like to know.  ‘Cause I was skeered.


Published in Highlights

When I say Highlights magazine, do you flash back to pediatric office waiting rooms? I remember anxiously fretting over some pending unpleasantness, like a shot or a check-up or a filling, and finding blessed distraction in the striking behavioral contrasts of Goofus and Gallant. Gallant was the guy I wanted to be like. Goofus was always such a jerk. It was a no-brainer.


And then there were the Timbertoes – the wooden family whose lives were storyboarded in neat little rows of squares, and whose problems were unfailingly solved by time you reached the bottom of the page. The “find the hidden objects” page was another delight, unless some Goofus who had been there before me had already circled everything in ink, ruining it for everyone else.

Highlights was always there for me in my waiting-room time of need.

timbertoesLgI didn’t know, until my own children started coming up through the ranks, that Highlights for Children was still going strong. But it is. And it has, ever since 1946. In fact, in 2006 it celebrated its billionth issue. Today, it has a circulation of over 2 million subscribers.

A year or so ago, my mom and dad gave subscriptions to my children - Highlights for my now 8-year-old daughter, and High Five, the preschool version, for my 5-year-old son. Every month, the magazines arrive on the same day (hooray for equity in magazine delivery times!), and both children eagerly devour them, searching first for their favorite features.

My daughter’s fixation, without question, is the “Your Own Pages” spread – the section where artwork and poems submitted by regular kids are published in the magazine. Months ago, she got it into her head that she wanted her own artwork published there. I had to explain to her that the magazine receives many, many submissions, and they can’t publish all of them, and please don’t be too disappointed if yours isn’t picked.

OK, mommy. Just please put a stamp on this and send it in for me? It was a drawing of a mountain climber trying to reach the peak. How appropriate.

Weeks pass. We forget about it.

A letter from Highlights addressed to her arrives in the mail! Gasp! Open it! Open it!

“Dear L ---, thank you so much for your submission. We want you to know that we have received it and will consider it, but please know that Highlights receives an extremely large volume of submissions, and blah blah blah….”

She is crestfallen.  And then she goes back to the drawing board, pounding out another creation.

Mommy, I’ve done another one! Send it in, please?

It has Barbie all over it, in word and in illustration. Aware that there would probably be copyright issues, I send it in for her nevertheless.

Weeks pass. An identical letter arrives. In the meantime, more Highlights magazines are arriving every month. I watch as she flips to “Your Own Pages” to scour it for her work, and I see the disappointment on her face.

Mommy, I’ve done another picture for Highlights! Can you mail it?

I am beginning to wonder how far we are going to go with this.  The magazine receives 3,000 letters per month. The odds of success are quite slim. But this picture she is handing to me is really cute. It has her school on it, the mall, a swingset, a picnic blanket, and some buildings and cars. It’s a town I’d actually like to live in, if I lived in child art.  So I know the drill. I send it in. And that was about 6 months ago.

Today, the February issue of Highlights arrived in our mailbox. The kids are looking through them while I am upstairs, and I hear this piercing little voice shriek, “I’M IN HERE!!!”

Groaning inwardly, I assume that little brother is trying to encroach upon her while she’s in the bathroom, and she is having to defend her territory. We are no strangers to such scuffles.

But then I hear my husband say, “Oh, WOW!” And it is then that I know that something much more wonderful than bathroom wars is happening downstairs. I rush to see my little girl, jumping up and down and proudly waving her published work in the air.  The scene culminates in jubilant jig-dancing and wild, celebratory screaming. By all of us.

I am proud of her artwork that was selected. But more than that, I’m proud that she didn’t give up. She fixed her eyes on the goal and pursued it, even when receiving rejection letters at age 7.  What I saw in her was the absence of self-doubt, over-analysis, apathy, discouragement, and a whole host of other cloudy emotions that plague those of us who live in the adult world.  In the kid world, you  just go for it.  Period.

She may want to be like me.

But I want to be like her.

Lauren in Highlights cropped

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